Other than UNB putting more space between them and the pack and clinching first place, the AUS tightened up considerably on the weekend, with four teams tied briefly for second place after Friday night, and then after Saturday's games it was all about layers, with two teams tied for second place, two tied for fourth, and two tied for sixth place, the last playoff spot. Only St. Thomas is on the outside looking in.
It wasn't a great week for Saint Mary's, and they're probably glad they won't see StFX goaltender Joey Perricone again this season. Wednesday night in Antigonish, SMU had the edge in shots (37-17) and territorial play but still lost 3-1. Friday they were home at the Halifax Forum and the shots were a lot lower (23-18) but Perricone got the shutout in a 2-0 win, putting his team into a second place tie with the Huskies. Saturday night the Huskies offence finally came uncorked. SMU was up 4-1 after a period and made it 8-2 by the end against Dalhousie, led by Lucas Bloodoff with a hat trick and a pair of goals each for captain Justin Munden and Cory Tanaka.
On the other hand, it was a good weekend for Moncton, who find themselves back in the playoff hunt. Friday night they led UPEI 3-0 going into the third period, and then watched the Panthers launch a furious charge. P.-A. Marion made 22 saves in the final 20 minutes, but two pucks got by him to allow UPEI to draw within a goal. Fortunately for les Aigles Bleus captain Dean Ouellet got the empty netter to make it a 4-2 win. Saturday night they were in Fredericton to play St. Thomas, and like the last time they were at the LBR this one went into overtime tied 2-2, with STU goalie Charles Lavigne the difference maker. Oh, and don't forget STU pulling Lavigne while on the power play to tie the game with 39 seconds left in regulation time. However 70 seconds into overtime Ouellet came in on a two-on-one and patiently waited for Lavigne to open his legs before going five-hole for the winner.
UNB is really rolling now, with most of their injured players back in the line-up. Friday night they were down the hill to play St. Thomas, and for half a game this was pretty close. But then the Tommies lost their legs and the Varsity Reds cruised to a 7-1 win with Hunter Tremblay notching a hat trick. Saturday the V-Reds were on the Island and were up 2-0 after the first period. The referee reportedly allowed “the boys to play”, which gave the Panthers lots of opportunities to hack and impede the quicker UNB team. They scored the only goal in the second period to make it 2-1. The third period saw the V-Reds go into their shutdown forecheck mode, and therefore few scoring chances offered to UPEI. It got wild at the end when UPEI pulled goaltender Mark Guggenberger. After a V-Red was hauled down on a two-on-one rush towards the empty net, and no call made, the Panthers came back the other way to swarm the UNB net and ring a shot off the post. With 3 seconds to go Tremblay scored into the empty Panthers net to record his second goal of the game for the 3-1 win. Make that nine in a row for UNB now.
Acadia needs some wins if they want to contest for second place. Friday they were all over Dalhousie. They outshot the Tigers 45-35, went 3-for-5 on the power play, and won 4-2 with Ryan Graham scoring the empty netter to seal the deal after assisting on the Axemen's first two goals. Saturday they weren't so good. The X-Men were up 5-0 before Acadia got on the board, with Bryce Swan bagging the hat trick. Brett Morrison had three assists and Matt Bragg had a goal and two assists. Acadia did score two goals, but it was too little, too late in the 5-2 loss. And now the streaky X-Men are riding a three game winning streak.
So SMU and StFX are tied for second place with 29 points, and they each have four games left. Just two points back are UPEI and Acadia, each with a game in hand on SMU and “X”. Nice symmetry, huh!? In the battle for the last playoff spot Moncton and Dalhousie are tied with 20 points, and improbably, still have a mathematical chance of finishing in second place.
Next weekend UNB has big games at StFX and SMU, as do their travel partner UPEI. In my book these are all Top-10 teams. In other games Dal and their travel partner Acadia are at Moncton and STU. This is going to be fun right 'til the end.